Tag Archives: a24

Mid 90’s (2018)

30 Oct

Academy-Award nominee Jonah Hill takes a turn behind the camera with his directorial debut Mid 90’s, a nostalgia-soaked coming of age story about a group of teen skateboarders in southern California.

Sunny Suljic plays the lead Stevie, a lonely pubescent kid who befriends a group of older boys at the local skate shop. Desperate to escape the constant fighting between his 18-year-old brother (Lucas Hedges) and his fragile mom (Katherine Waterston), Stevie spends as much time as he can with his new friends, including following the group to a drunken party or two. There is the older leader Ray (Na-kel Smith), a pair who go by the nicknames of Fuckshit and Fourth Grade (Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin, respectively) and the younger Ruben (Gio Galicia) who becomes Stevie’s entry point into the world of skateboarding.

Mid 90’s never directly tells us what year the story is set, but the film is packed with a slew of references from the obvious musical choices to the costume design to the billboards strung along a Los Angeles highway.  The cinematography itself is also a sort of reference; shot on grainy 16mm and featuring a nifty 4:3 aspect ratio, Mid 90’s is a time capsule of a film that seems directly lifted from the VHS era. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross feels almost inappropriately irrelevant, given that just about every scene features some 90’s tune (everyone from Wu-Tang-Clan to Bad Brains to the Beastie Boys makes an appearance). Jonah Hill is a clever enough director to not let pure nostalgia be the focus here, and he naturally centers the story around Stevie’s emotional journey of friendship and discovery. Beautifully acted, the film’s strength comes from it’s breezy, (and at times hilarious) natural dialogue and youthful chemistry between the boys. The group of teens are all phenomenal and put just enough emotional weight into their performances to give the script a lively energy.

There is some unnecessary melodrama near the film’s end and things ultimately fail to wrap up in a satisfying way during its final moments. At a tidy 85 minutes, Mid 90’s almost feels too sleight and insufficiently empty by the time the credits roll. Still, the film marks a skilled accomplishment for Jonah Hill as both a confident director and promising screenwriter.

Bottom Line: Packed to the brim with teen angst and musical montage aplenty, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid 90’s is a breezy, endearing portrait of 1990’s youthfulness and counterculture. 

Rating: 7.6/10 

Film Recipe: Kids + The Florida Project + Boyhood Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 

 

 

 

 

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The Witch (2015 Sundance)

18 Feb

Zombies and Vampires may come close, but no horror archetype has been represented and caricatured in cinema quite like that of a witch. From The Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter, to Monty Python, we have been enchanted by the mysterious figure. I walked into the “The Witch” thinking I had seen just about every form of witches out there. I was so wrong.

Directed by Robert Eggers, and based of the real-life accounts of 16th century New England puritans, The Witch tells the story of a small puritan family who have recently been banished from their immigrant village on account of religious blasphemy.  William, Katherine, Thomasin, Caleb, Jonas, and Mercy must now fend for themselves by raising a farm in the middle of a forsaken (and possibly haunted) swampland. Without the aid of any nearby villagers, the family is faced with a terrifying ultimatum: either grow food or starve to death.  When crops fail to sprout however, William (Ralph Ineson), the family patriarch, suspects his children have been involved with witchcraft and dabbling in occult affairs. Members of the family then begin one by one to descend into a terrifying spiral of religiously-fuelled madness and savagery.

Part supernatural horror, part paranoid thriller, The Witch is a genuinely spooky take on the occult and the terrorizing effects religious devotion can have on one’s psyche. Thankfully, it is a meticulously crafted as it is terrifying, making The Witch the most artistically minded horror since 2014’s Under The Skin.

The Witch is one of those rare films you just don’t watch but experience; you can feel the sense of impending dread seeping out from the screen as you watch characters slowly peel back the mystery and evil that exists within the nearby woods. Boasting an immaculate production design that effectively recalls the early 1600’s, the film accurately recalls a time and place when religious paranoia fueled all aspects of life.  The film’s dialogue is even written word-by-word from historical transcripts and rendered by the actors in heavy, old-english accents. This kind of attention to detail might throw some viewers off (especially those with an aversion to period pieces) and the slow timing during the film’s first act ensures only those with a bit a patience will brave the film’s nightmarish climax.

This film is dark – extremely dark – figuratively and literally, (I doubt some scenes will even be visible when screened in a lightened room) which adds immensely to its haunting quality. Dimly lit landscapes covered in impenetrable greys add a surreal and menacing atmosphere. With one hell of an unsettling score, The Witch creates subtle psychological tension from the things we don’t see onscreen rather than relying on tiring jump scares.

 

Bottom Line: The Witch is a throwback to the great horror films of the 70’s, but delivered in such a visceral fashion that the ultimate effect is hard to shake off; I literally had dreams (nightmares?) about this thing weeks after seeing it.

 

Rating: 8/10 

Film Recipe: The Wicker Man (1973) + The Shining (1980) + The Exorcist (1973)

Goodnight Mommy (2015)

11 Sep

It’s been the quite the year to be a horror movie fan. From fear-inducing breakout indies like It Follows to horror-comedies like What We Do In The Shadows, to upcoming releases from horror veteran directors like M. Night Shyamalan or Guillermo Del Toro, it seems like we have entered into some new genre reconnaissance. Sure, there will always be the thoughtless franchise sequel or reboot looking to make a quick  cash grab (I’m looking you, Poltergeist), but one look at A24’s new trailer for The Witch shows there is still original quality material to get scared for.

And the trend is spreading outside of North America too. In fact, many of the decade’s best genre films have come from different places in the Middle East,  South Asia or Europe. The new German psychological thriller Goodnight Mommy from directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz fits into the latter camp. Taking its cues from European neo-realist directors like Lars Von Trier and Michael HanekeGoodnight Mommy tells the story of a mystery surrounding a particular dysfunctional family consisting of The Mother (Susanne Wuest) and her twin sons Elias and Lukas (played by real-life twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz). The trio are isolated in a massive, upper class home nestled deep in the German countryside. It’s unclear at first exactly what has happened to this family; we do know the mother’s face appears to have been replaced by a gruesome medical bandage after an operation, and the two boys have some sort of terrifying preoccupation with collecting cockroaches…

The performances from the young twins, though mostly silent, are hauntingly genuine and give the film a launching pad to explore the dynamics of three characters forced to share the same physical and psychological spaces. Slowly and quietly, the film transforms into a walking daytime nightmare – the living, breathing, kind of a nightmare you can not wake from. The end results are raw, disturbing and authentically scary.

A tight slowburn, the film is expertly paced to reveal only the smallest pieces of information when the audience needs it. Goodnight Mommy relies heavily on atmosphere and tone, which Fiala and Franz have crafted to a fine degree. It’s enough to discourage viewers accustomed to constant jump scares and gore, but Goodnight Mommy is too sophisticated for its own good, much so that when the violence does arrive, it is extremely unsettling.

Bottom Line: While its slower pace might not be for everyone, Goodnight Mommy is a quiet but satisfying artistic examination of loneliness and fear with enough depth and emotion to make second viewings an absolute necessity.

Rating: 8/10

Film Recipie: Vic + Flo Saw A Bear (2013) + Dogtooth (2009) + Michael Haneke 

 

Cut Bank (2015)

24 Apr

“Hi! Welcome to Cut Bank, Montana – where the Rockies meet the plains!” exclaims Cassandra (Teresa Palmer) as she rehearses for her Miss Cut Bank Pageant trial video. The town, nicknamed “The coldest spot in the nation” has all the makings of your typical small town. There’s the local hermit Derby Milton (Michael Stuhlbarg), Sheriff Vogel (John Malkovich), who heads the local law enforcement, Big Stan (Billy Bob Thornton), and Georgie Wits (Bruce Dern) the neighborhood mailman. Dwayne, (Liam Hemsworth) our protagonist, dreams of leaving the sleepy town in favor of moving to Butte, or maybe even California. He gets his big break when he stumbles across a murder (Cut Bank’s first on record), and has the chance to exchange evidence of the crime for a large sum of money. This particular murder may or may not be connected with a larger conspiracy however, and Dwayne soon learns that some of Cut Bank’s inhabitants aren’t as friendly as they appear.

Directed by Mark Shakman, Cut Bank has major ambition to being a grade-A crime thriller. The main issue here is with its execution. While the pulpy story overflows with Coen-style writing tropes, the script unfortunately is sub-par and riddled with plot holes. Though it boasts an ensemble cast most of the performances here are passable and borderline campy. And yet despite its flaws, Cut Bank somehow makes for some engaging and immersive viewing.  Though it relies heavily on delivered exposition, the story still manages to be unpredictable, and at times genuinely suspenseful.  Shakman clearly knows what genre he is in, and he plays to the plot’s strengths.  If we were to go back to the TV days before The Wire, then Cut Bank would play out like one of the best dramatic episodes of all time. But this is 2015, and while surely not an innovator in the crime genre, Cut Bank is still a very solid, entertaining, and worthwhile experience.

Bottom Line: Cut Bank is saturated with pulp and borderline camp at times, but yet most importantly, it brings enough thrills to be satisfying.

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: Fargo (1996) + The Counsellor (2013)